PSG and Newcastle look to in-form wingers Dembele and Gordon in Champions League

Magpies were 4-1 winners in England but their qualification hopes are hanging by a thread ahead of Tuesday's return in Paris

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A contentious transfer seldom leaves its subject free of residual stress. When Anthony Gordon, the young English winger, left Everton at the beginning of the year, the departure was abrasive.

Supporters of a struggling club rounded on a home-grown player as he set his sights higher, and on a move to Newcastle United and the promise of European football.

Similar obstacles confronted Ousmane Dembele back in August. After six years and many ups and downs at Barcelona, the France winger’s expressed desire to join Paris Saint-Germain was taken badly in Catalonia, where the club believed their patience with Dembele through long periods of injury was being ungratefully remembered.

But all employer-employee relationships in sport tend to be nuanced. Dembele was entitled to point out that Barca had a few months earlier marginalised him from first-team practice during a tense contract negotiation, Gordon to reflect that the environment at Everton in his later days there, even before he became restless, was intimidatingly hostile towards him.

For Gordon and Dembele, dates like tonight’s at the Parc des Princes are why they moved on, and they approach a high-stakes contest feeling as settled in their new clubs as they have ever done.

Newcastle, back in the Champions League this season after two decades away, travel to PSG on a mission, to salvage a campaign that peaked with the 4-1 thrashing of the Parisiens at St James' Park but has fallen away abruptly since. In the toughest pool of the group phase, with Borussia Dortmund currently at its summit, Newcastle find themselves bottom on four points.

With two games left, PSG can hardly feel complacent. At second in the table, their six points are only one more than AC Milan’s, and last month’s unravelling in Newcastle a recent enough trauma to make them fearful.

“Their physical strengths are the same as they were then,” said PSG manager Luis Enrique, with a glance at Newcastle’s 4-1 victory over Chelsea on Saturday, in which Gordon scored his fourth Premier League goal in seven games and contributed an assist.

PSG, and Dembele in particular had a good weekend, too. The former Barca and Dortmund winger scored his first goal for his new club, a breakthrough moment that has been a while in arriving.

The 5-2 victory over Monaco was Dembele’s 15th outing for his new club, and while his main forte will always be in the creation of chances, via his turn of pace and mazy close control, a lack of consistency has dogged his career since, as a 20-year-old, Barca invested an eye-catching €100 million-plus in signing him from Dortmund.

For any winger looking to settle quickly at a new club, among the most important allies are the full-backs, the players who will watch their backs, feed them the passes and eke out the right spaces. Perhaps the greatest blessing for Dembele in Paris is to line up in front of Achraf Hakimi, the Moroccan with few modern peers as a right-back.

The best versions of PSG this season have often been those when Hakimi and Dembele dovetail most efficiently: In Ligue 1 so far, only Lens’s Florian Sotoca has assisted more goals than Dembele’s or Hakimi’s four each.

In the Premier League, only Pedro Neto of Wolverhampton Wanderers boasts more assists than Newcastle captain Kieran Trippier.

His usual right-back role – although he can play on the left – is not on Gordon’s customary flank, but as a young newcomer, Gordon can only benefit from Trippier’s technical guidance as a crosser – and from his leadership.

Earlier this month, Trippier engaged firmly with critical Newcastle supporters, face to face, in the stadium after the 2-0 loss at Bournemouth; Gordon will have recognised that sort of fan anger from his Everton experience, though perhaps not the dialogue Trippier boldly entered into.

The two accomplished right-backs expect to be fully engaged on Tuesday, in a group game with the feel of a knockout tie, a contest with special resonance across the Gulf, with Qatar-back PSG potentially able to end Saudi Arabia-backed Newcastle’s Champions League campaign.

As for the dashing wingers, form buoys them. “Mentally he’s in a very good place,” said Newcastle manager Eddie Howe of Gordon. “He was very good against Chelsea, a constant menace for them down that left-hand side. His finish at the end highlights a growing confidence in front of goal.”

Luis Enrique echoed those words in praising Dembele. “He has a lot of self-confidence. He always wants the ball, isn’t scared of trying things and will take on criticism.

“You can look at the decisive passes and the goals, but he brings so many other things to the team. There’s no more effective player in the world in a one-on-one situation.”

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Updated: November 27, 2023, 3:47 PM